DOI link for COHORS
It has long been understood, thanks not least to seminal studies by Brunt and Gruen, that an important facet of the Roman self-image under both Republic and Principate was that of the beneficent imperialist. The development of legislation against magistrates’ abuse of power in the provinces was held up as but one proof of Roman commitment to just rule, whatever may have been the particular circumstances or aims of the drafting of such legislation (Lintott 1993, 97-110). Against the background of that legislation, particular cases of maladministration could be accommodated within the ideology of beneficence, for they could be conceived as exceptional deviations which somehow proved the general rule. In that sense, the prosecution of abusive governors may even have served a useful ideological purpose. For, given that Roman literature contains many expressions of anxiety about the propriety of Roman imperialism, and that Roman writers find no difficulty in constructing and presenting strong (and weak) critiques of Roman imperialism (Brunt 1978), the condemnation of abusive governors (both actual and potential) served to dispel, or at least to soothe, such imperialist anxieties as may have been felt at Rome. Such mis-governors functioned as scapegoats who bore away such blame as Romans might admit for their imperialism. The punishment of the unjust redeemed the empire as just in principle and in practice, within the limits of practicality (cf. Cicero, Rep. 3. 35-8). The abusive governor had failed not only himself but also the Roman community at large: in that sense, his exile from the community was an appropriate outcome of his prosecution. In short, the prosecution and condemnation of abusive governors may be included among the various justifications of Roman imperialism and imperial administration: they seemed to show that there were limits to misrule and fixed much of what seemed negative in Roman imperialism upon individual abusive governors, not
on the underpinning ideology of imperialism nor on the very system of governors itself.